Helping Kids Grow Up Drug-Free
Many adults see experimental tobacco use as a natural part of the growing up process. Some adults will even argue that marijuana use is really not such a big deal. However, recent studies of American youth have revealed that youth ages twelve to seventeen who smoke tobacco are nine times more likely to use illegal drugs and fifteen times more likely to drink heavily than youth who do not smoke tobacco. Furthermore, youth ages twelve to seventeen who use marijuana weekly are nine times more likely to experiment with other drugs; six times more likely to run away; five times more likely to steal; four times more likely to engage in violence; and three times more likely to have thoughts about committing suicide.
In the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse found that youth twelve to seventeen years old named drugs as the most important problem they face; more than social pressures, violence, crime or any other issue. Another finding of the study is that while 18% of parents think their teenage child has tried marijuana, 40% of teens say they have tried marijuana. Twelve and thirteen year olds responding to the study reported that the drugs they are most likely to use, besides tobacco, are marijuana, prescription pain relievers, and inhalants.
In spite of these sobering statistics, there is good news. Youth are less likely to use drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, if they have:
- A positive attitude, an ability to adapt to change, and a belief in their ability to handle things.
- A warm close-knot family and parental supervision with consistent discipline.
- Close friends and extended family that provides support.
- Community resources and family and community attitudes that do not tolerate substance abuse.
Communities where drug use among youth is lowest have identified six things that make a difference. The first is to establish and maintain good communication with children because some youth use drugs to satisfy curiosity. Parents and other significant adults can do that by setting aside a few minutes each day for active listening. Validate the child’s feelings and avoid being judgmental. Finally, ask questions. When adults continue conversations by asking questions and actively listening youth respond positively.
When caring adults are actively involved in young people’s lives it is easier to recognize increased stress and subtle changes in behavior. Fifteen minutes is the minimum amount of child-directed activity that will foster a real sense of involvement. Children and youth also benefit from one on one time with a responsible adult. It is especially important to have discussions with young people about why drug use is not acceptable. These commitments by adults promote opportunities to support the child’s activities and make it easier to recognize good behavior consistently and immediately. Television viewing time, video game time, and movie outings provide the perfect opportunities to point out examples of unacceptable behavior in movies, television shows, music videos or video games. Family mealtime is another valuable opportunity to share news and discuss current affairs.
Adults responsible for children and youth in family, school, and community settings need to make clear rules and enforce them with consistency and appropriate consequences. The lack of rules and consistent enforcement encourages some youth to use drugs to take risks and test the rules. The rules need to include clearly defined expectations. Once age appropriate rules and expectations have been clearly defined young people respond well to acknowledgement when they follow rules.
Probably the most powerful component of the adult-child relationship is being a positive role model because some youth use drugs to appear grownup. It is unlikely that conversations and rules will be a deterrent to drug use if the adults says, “ Do as I say not as I do.” Furthermore, children must not be involved in adult substance use. It is harmful to ask children to serve an alcoholic beverage or deliver tobacco products or lighters.
Children need to develop the decision-making skills necessary to choose friends wisely because some youth use drugs to fit in and belong. Other skills that can help youth choose friends wisely include, how to avoid peer pressure, social skills appropriate for age and environment, and the ability to analyze media messages.
Another critical role for adults who have responsibility for children is youth is monitoring their activities because some youth do drugs when they think they have nothing better to do. It is important for parents to establish relationships with the child’s friends and the friend’s parents. When your child is away from you know where they are, whom they are with, and what they are doing. An important rule to make and enforce is for the child to check in at regular times. Parents, schools, and communities have a responsibility to make sure children and youth have access to enjoyable, drug-free, structured activities.
Children succeed in school, lead a healthier life, and develop full potential when families, schools and communities work together to make sure that all children have access to the support they need to resist drug use.
(Source: DHHS Publication No. (SMA)-3772)